The Ensemble Cappella Mediterranea was founded in 2005 by Leonardo Garcia Alarcón. As indicated by his name, this ensemble is originally impassioned by the music of the Mediterranean basin, and intends to propose another approach of the Latin Baroque music.
10 years later, the repertory of Cappella Mediterranea considerably widened. With more than 45 concerts per year, the ensemble explores, amongst others, the madrigal, the polyphonic motet and opera. A mixt which gives a very particular style, pervaded by a rare complicity between the director and his musicians. The enthusiastic encounters of Cappella Mediterranea with some neglected scores, its original reading of the repertory, its concerts mixed with theatre and dance and it’s recordings are highly regarded. The success in 2010 of Il Diluvio Universale by Michelangelo Falvetti was an outstanding moment. It widened considerably the audience of the ensemble and of Leonardo García Alarcón.
Cappella Mediterranea performs in prestigious venues and festivals: Ambronay, Festival of Saint Denis near Paris, Victoria Hall in Geneva, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Château de Versailles, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Carnegie Hall in New-York, the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires…The list is endless.
Cappella Mediterranea won great acclaim in 2013 at the opera Festival of Aix-en-Provence with Cavalli’s opera Elena. Since then, Cappella Mediterranea is considered as one of the main ensemble for opera productions. Opera projects have followed one another in recent years: Handel's Alcina in 2016, Cavalli’s Il Giasone in 2017 and Purcell’s King Arthur in 2018 at the Opéra des Nations with the Grand Théâtre de Genève before Medea and the Indes Galantes at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, recently restored in 2019. In 2016, Cappella introduced Cavalli to the repertory of the National Opera of Paris at the Palais Garnier with Eliogabalo, which was also given at the Opera of Amsterdam in 2017. In 2018 the ensemble entered the Residence at the Dijon Opera House for several seasons with a series of unpublished works such as Draghi's El Prometeo or Francesco Sacrati's in june 2018 and La finta pazza in February 2019.
In 2019 the ensemble is also invited to celebrate a double anniversary at the Paris Opera with Les Indes Galantes of Rameau at the Opéra Bastille on the occasion of the building's 30th anniversary but especially on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the Royal Academy of Music.
Since 2020, the ensemble adapts its productions to the health crisis. In December 2020, the opera Il Palazzo Incantato, produced at the Opera de Dijon, was maintained despite the absence of the public, and its video recording, that was streamed online, was a great success.
The discography of Cappella Mediterranea includes around thirty titles on various labels: Ricercar, Naïve, Ambronay Editions and Alpha Classics.
Lastly was released the recording of Draghi’s El Prometeo on Alpha Classics in march 2020, and Rebirth on Sony classical in march 2021, a collaboration between the soprano Sonya Yoncheva and Leonardo Garcia Alarcón and its ensemble. In 2021 will be released Lamenti & Sospiri - a collection of madrigals by Sigismondo d’India - on Ricercar, and Monteverdi’s Orfeo on Alpha Classics.
The ensemble Cappella Mediterranea is supported by the Ministry of Culture - DRAC Auvergne Rhône Alpes, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region, the city of Geneva, a Swiss family foundation, a private Geneva foundation, and by a circle of Friends and a circle of business owners composed of Siaci Saint-Honoré, Synapsys, Chatillon architects, Quinten, 400 partners.
Cappella Mediterranea is member of the Fevis and the Bureau export.
Q: You're the founding director of the Cappella Mediterranea. What led you back in 2005 to take a fresh look at Baroque music in the Mediterranean basin?
A: It was something quite natural and spontaneous when I arrived in Europe from Argentina in 1997. I immediately felt a very strong affinity with Portugal in general, and Lisbon in particular, and I travelled around looking at manuscripts. I had had no idea, for instance, that Lisbon was so closely connected with Naples. I studied the scores of many Neapolitan operas in Lisbon, and I read about what was going on in the 16th and 17th centuries not only there, but also in Madrid and South America, and I saw how New Spain, the Spanish Empire, had influenced Latin American music.
What is perhaps less generally known is that musicians north of the Alps were also greatly impacted by the Neapolitan School, even someone like C.P.E. Bach, for instance. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Naples was the cradle, or at least one of the cradles, of modern music. And it certainly exercised a decisive influence on the origins of Latin American music.
We initiated our research on what was happening at this time in Italy and Southern Europe, but also in North Africa. We remarked to what an extent Western culture is a product of the Mediterranean basin, and not only its music. The arts, the sciences, mathematics, all these were given very strong impetus from the lands around the Mediterranean.
As you know, Naples and Sicily were always at the crossroads of various civilizations, and they found themselves invaded by just about everyone, including the Vikings (Normans), then France, Aragon and finally Spain. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Naples and Sicily were under Spanish and Hapsburg domination, before finally becoming part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. So Spanish and Portuguese cultural elements were integrated into the Neapolitan School, which numbered such composers as Alessandro Scarlatti and his son Domenico, Pergolesi, Francesco Provenzale, Nicola Porpora, Leonardo Vinci and many others, including Niccolò Piccinni, whose operas were widely given and challenged the aesthetics of Gluck.
Even Johann Sebastian Bach, who never travelled south of the Alps, could not escape this influence in his sacred and chamber music, and towards the end of his life, in 1747, he conducted Pergolesi's Stabat mater in Leipzig. After his stay in Italy, Handel also incorporated certain elements in his oratorios and operas in England.
Venice was also marked by the Neapolitan School. Francesco Cavalli, who trained and worked with Monteverdi, was a friend of Provenzale, and they even wrote an opera together. Naturally, the Venetians had their own opera, but Monteverdi, notably in The Coronation of Poppea, and Cavalli soon appropriated the new forms from Naples in their works. The influence of Naples on the music of the 17thand 18th centuries was very widespread. When Mozart went to Naples, he said the music there reminded him exactly of what he could hear in Salzburg and Vienna!
Q: Yet with your ensemble, you did not even tackle opera until 2013, with Cavalli's Elena. Why did you wait so long?
A: It's true, before Elena, I did only one opera, in 2006. I waited a long time because our ensemble simply wasn't ready for opera. Not only that, I had founded the group out of nothing, and opera is expensive. Now, we are supported by foundations and institutions in France and Switzerland, but at the start, no. Even if I had wanted to do opera, I wouldn't have been able to because of financial and administrative issues.
Q: Cappella Mediterranea has virtually singlehandedly helped us rediscover the operas of Cavalli – Il Giasone, but also Erismena and Eliogabalo. Tell us how you came to revive this long-forgotten repertory.
A: I was able to do many operas with Gabriele Garrido and his Ensemble Elyma, and in particular La Calisto by Cavalli. I immediately fell in love with his music, his rhythms, his melodies. I didn't feel this attraction towards other composers, including Monteverdi.
For me, Monteverdi is another style: it's pure Mannerism. He is the Michelangelo of music, because he took the music of the Renaissance and he deformed it. Monteverdi does not have the same natural gift for melody as Cavalli: his inspiration is rational, almost mathematical. He composed his operas slowly because he knew that he was creating a new style. By contrast, writing music came as naturally as breathing to Cavalli, who was a man of the theatre. Monteverdi was a man of the court and the church who was actually persuaded by his students to write opera, but it's court music, much more thought out and less lyrical than Cavalli.
Q: What then are the similarities and the differences between Cavalli's musical theatre and Monteverdi's?
A: Cavalli's musical language is not just for connoisseurs. For instance, he never used chromaticism, but rather simple, diatonic melodies (based on the octave). His melodies are simple, never deformed, like Monteverdi's. Cavalli's music is more classical and does not seek out extremes in emotion. That's why I recorded The Seven Deadly Sins, a compilation of Monteverdi operatic excerpts focused on these extremes. It was the best tribute I could pay to this philosopher! Cavalli, on the other hand, is interested in entertaining his audiences – sensuality, eroticism, comedy, humour, love – but without the philosophical aspect. He was a man of the theatre.
Q: What were your artistic and theatrical criteria in preparing your edition of Il Giasone?
A: Completely practical, to begin with. There are two editions from the period, one from St Mark's in Venice and one from Vienna. I decided to base myself on the 1649 original, done by one of Cavalli's copyists. I had to reconstruct the entire instrumental score: obviously, the vocal parts existed. But at the time, the instrumental accompaniment was almost entirely improvised, even the bass continuo. The musicians knew what to play, they knew how to improvise, like jazzmen. Now can you imagine such a thing, for instance, for the big storm scene in Il Giasone, and what that means for the staging?
Nowadays, we're used to the sound of a full orchestra, but in Venice, there would have been only the harpsichord, the violone and two violins. Don't forget that Cavalli had to pay for everything himself, including the musicians, and if he hired too many, he went bankrupt! Basically, he was the impresario. Not only that, but the violin at the time was not considered an aristocratic instrument. Violinists were tavern musicians and were paid as such. The theatres in Venice were like taverns themselves, very small, with lots going on at once: people eating, talking, flirting.
Q: You have just scored a huge success at the Opéra des Nations in Geneva with Cavalli's Il Giasone. How do you explain the enthusiastic reception everywhere for Cappella Mediterranea's productions of Cavalli's operas?
A: It's all about the capacity of Baroque music to transform us: the director, the singers, the stagehands, and finally, the audience. It's exactly what Cavalli and Monteverdi were looking for at the time. Music is like religion, it must be capable of changing our hearts. I arrived in Geneva and found people who were not at all working as a group, and I immediately set about bringing them together. The texts also play a role here, especially working with the singers on them. You go home with this music and these words in your head, and you live with them all day long. Of course, you could say that about any music, but there's something about Cavalli that appeals to our most immediate emotions: desire, suffering, jealousy. I think these serve as a catharsis, almost as a means of purification, within a group. And I've seen how in my productions the artists' own emotions are communicated to the audience.